Largest-ever Alzheimer's study unlocks new knowledge about the disease's genetic roots, researchers say

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The largest-ever international study of Alzheimer's disease has significantly expanded the scientific community's understanding of the disease's genetic underpinnings, according to a report in Nature Genetics.

In 2011, leaders of the world's four largest Alzheimer's research groups launched the ambitious project, which ultimately collected data on more than 74,000 people in 15 countries. The researchers involved have discovered 11 new genes related Alzheimer's, and an additional 13 genes that have not yet been validated, according to the published findings.

The newly discovered genes have led to important new hypotheses, the researchers stated. One of the discoveries “strongly suggests” that the immune system is involved in Alzheimer's. 

“Each gene we implicate in the disease process adds new knowledge to our understanding of disease mechanism and provides insight into developing new therapeutic approaches, and ultimately these approaches may be more effective in halting the disease since genes are expressed long before clinical symptoms appear and brain damage occurs," stated Lindsay A. Farrer, Ph.D., of Boston University School of Medicine. Farrer was one of the lead investigators involved in the effort.

The project was supported in part by the National Institute on Aging.